Leaked emails give inside look at BP’s scramble to improve safety after series of North Slope accidents

North Slope pipeline. (Photo by Joshua Stearns/Flickr Creative Commons)

The world got a inside look at the BP’s efforts to turn around safety conditions on the North Slope that has culminated with a 12-day pause for workshops and refreshers on safety.

The internal emails and recorded conversations were obtained by Buzzfeed and published this morning in a searing report that details 27 accidents and spills on the North Slope this year. The incidents themselves are generally not secret, but the inside look at the internal communications and efforts to right the ship is new.

“We must change now; we must have a reset,” BP Alaska President Janet Weiss wrote in one of the emails obtained by Buzzfeed regarding a Sept. 10 leak of 1,200 kilograms of gas in a building that could have been fatal if there had been an ignition source.

The story details a series of increasingly urgent emails from Weiss about improving safety conditions on the North Slope, recognizing that people could have been killed in a handful of the most serious spills and accidents on the slope. The story doesn’t provide answers on why BP has reached this state (or whether it’s particularly out of the ordinary), but interviews with unnamed employees suggest that BP has become lax with safety regulations and has cut corners to save costs.

“We’re just altogether too comfortable with handling and being around gas, and I think we need to get more uncomfortable,” said Anchala Klein, a vice president at BP’s Global Wells Organization, in a recording obtained by Buzzfeed during one of the recent hearings.

In total, the story paints a picture of a company that’s serious about turning around its safety record and highly aware that a big, high-profile failure could spell doom for the company. BP pulled most workers off the slope earlier this month to go through revamped safety and training programs in a move that oil and gas consultant Ken Arnold told Buzzfeed was “a dramatic step to take.”

The news comes just as national attention is turning again to the North Slope.

Yesterday Congress, with the vote of the Senate, made an initial step to open up the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil production through a budget resolution. That move prompts the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which Sen. Lisa Murkowski chairs, to begin drafting legislation to raise $1 billion over the next 10 years, with drilling in the ANWR being the most likely source. The Senate Democrats failed to block the move on a 52N-48Y vote.

It’s anticipated that legislation could be included in the tax break legislation President Donald Trump and Republicans hope to pass later this year.

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